The Indonesian conservation agency caught a pair of army officers trying to smuggle dozens of porcupines across provincial borders in Sumatra.
The animal’s stomach produces a stone used in traditional Chinese medicine.
The soldiers were questioned by civilian authorities, and then turned over to the military.
PADANG, Indonesia — Two soldiers were caught trying to smuggle dozens of Malayan porcupines (Hystrix brachyura) across provincial borders, the latest arrest of a military officer for wildlife trafficking.
The porcupines are prized for the bezoar stones that form in their stomachs, a component in traditional Chinese medicine thought to cure a range of ailments, from dengue fever to cancer.
The state conservation agency had received a tip about the soldiers’ contraband as the pair drove from West to North Sumatra. When confronted, the suspects tried to flee, but agency officials and police blocked their way.
The soldiers were turned over to the military police in Pasaman district, West Sumatra, for questioning. They were eventually sent back to North Sumatra, where they are stationed at an air base.
“Our mission was only to thwart the porcupine smuggling,” said Edi Candra, head of the conservation agency’s office in Pasaman. “We leave the legal matters to their unit. The two suspects have already made a statement never to do it again.”
The Wildlife Conservation Society, an international NGO, slammed their release as another example of impunity when it comes to influential figures who sell animals illegally.
The Indonesian military has its own process for investigating soldiers charged with a crime. This consistently falls short of delivering justice to traffickers, said Irma Hermawati, coordinator of the NGO’s Wildlife Crime Unit.
“If all they have to do is make a statement [never to do it again], there won’t be any deterrent effect,” she said.
Last year, a military family in North Sumatra turned in a pet orangutan it had kept in a cage for so many years, its legs had atrophied to the point where the ape could no longer stand.
Indonesian law provides a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment for anyone who transports, trades, keeps or kills a protected species such as the Malayan porcupine, whose population is decreasing due to habitat loss and hunting for food and medicinal purposes.
The conservation agency confiscated 40 live Malayan porcupines from the soldiers, and freed the animals in the Rimbo Panti Wildlife Reserve.
This story was reported by Mongabay’s Indonesia team and was first published on our Indonesian site on Sept. 20, 2017.
Banner image: A Malayan porcupine at Khao Yai National Park, Thailand. Photo by Rushenb/Wikimedia Commons.
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